Delving into the Guardians’ bench scenarios

March 9th, 2023

GOODYEAR, Ariz. – It has become commonplace at this point in the spring to talk about the upcoming position battles and wonder what the Opening Day lineup will look like. But this year is different for Cleveland. Those questions really don’t exist.

Myles Straw, Oscar Gonzalez and Steven Kwan will fill the outfield. Amed Rosario, Jos? Ram?rez, Andr?s Gim?nez, Josh Naylor and Josh Bell will fill the infield (and rotate in at DH). Mike Zunino will be behind the plate, and Cam Gallagher appears to be the top candidate to spell Zunino from time to time.

As far as position players go, only the bench is left to fill. Here’s where the questions arise.

Assuming the Guardians carry the maximum of 13 pitchers on their 26-player roster, there are three openings to sort out. Who could complete this team and what combinations of players could Cleveland be debating? Let’s take a look:

Two infielders, one outfielder: Gabriel Arias, Tyler Freeman, Will BrennanBoth Arias and Freeman are getting time in the outfield to become even more versatile than they already are. Arias, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Guardians’ No. 9 prospect, can play all four infield spots and made his Cactus League outfield debut on Thursday afteroon in a 6-4 loss to the Padres at Goodyear Ballpark. Freeman can be an option at second base, shortstop and third base and will soon get some reps in the grass. Both Arias and Freeman seem like promising bats.

Brennan, the club’s No. 11 prospect, is an ideal fourth outfielder. He can play all three positions and showed he could handle the adversity of getting sporadic playing time well last year, going 15-for-42 (.357 average) with a double, triple, homer and eight RBIs in 11 games.

Could this trio make sense? Sure. But there are also other things to consider.

Two outfielders, one infielder: Brennan, Roman Quinn, AriasWe’ve already gone over why Brennan could fit on this roster. We’ll move on to the other decisions in this grouping.

If both Arias and Freeman are carried on the roster, playing behind three infielders who rarely get a day off and a tandem of Bell and Naylor at first base, how will either (let alone both) get enough playing time?

Between Arias and Freeman, Arias seems like the more likely candidate to break camp with the team. He has played the outfield in his past — Freeman hasn’t — he has the ability to move over to first base in a pinch and, although spring stats hardly matter in the overall picture, he has looked solid at the plate thus far.

If Arias is the first man off the bench, where will Freeman get time to continue his development? Would it make more sense to have him playing every day in Triple-A Columbus than sitting on Cleveland’s bench? That’s a big question the team needs to answer.

Let’s say the team determines that he would benefit more to start the year in Triple-A. Quinn could take one of the spots on the bench. He plays sound defense at all three outfield spots. His arm strength ranks in the 98th percentile, and his sprint speed ranks in the 96th (as opposed to Arias’ and Freeman’s 70th percentiles in sprint speed). Quinn could be used as a pinch-runner in times that a run needs to be scored or a bag needs to be swiped. He’s also further along in his career, so having more sporadic playing time wouldn’t be as detrimental to his development.

Could this trio make sense? Sure. But there’s one more thing to consider.

Two outfielders, one infielder: Richie Palacios, Quinn/Brennan, Arias The reason for Arias remains, but in this scenario — like Freeman — the question of whether Brennan would benefit more from consistent playing time could be a factor. Does the team feel more comfortable with someone like Palacios getting sporadic playing time than Brennan? Palacios had success in random, pinch-hit moments for Cleveland in 2022 and might be able to provide the same again, if given the opportunity.

If the Guardians are adamant about starting Freeman in Triple-A but don’t have a roster spot on the currently full 40-player roster to add Quinn, then Palacios and Brennan could make the team in this scenario.

Could this trio make sense? Sure. This is why there are still three more weeks of camp to sort this out.